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The Evil of Female Foeticide In India: Causes, Consequences And Prevention

Abortion of female foetus is called female foeticide. This is a major social problem in India and has cultural connections with the dowry system that is ingrained in the Indian culture, despite the fact that it has been prohibited by law since 1961. In India, unlike any Western culture, strong preference for sons over daughters exists. Pregnancies are planned by resorting to differential contraception - contraception is used based on the number of surviving sons irrespective of family size. Following conception, foetal sex is determined by pre-natal diagnostic techniques after which female foetuses are aborted. Foetal sex determination and sex- selective abortion by medical professionals has grown into 1,000 crore industry (US$244 million). Social discrimination against women and a preference for sons have been promoted. Since 1991, 80% of districts in India have recorded an increasingly masculine sex ratio with the state of Punjab having the most masculine sex ratio. According to the decennial Indian census, the sex ratio in the 0-6 age group in India went from 104.0 males per 100 females in 1981, to 105.8 in 1991, to 107.8 in 2001, to 109.4 in 2011. The ratio is significantly higher in certain states such as Punjab and Haryana.1

Magnitude of The Problem
It is estimated that more than 10 million female foetuses have been illegally aborted in India. Researchers for the Lancet journal based in Canada and India stated that 500,000 girls were being lost annually through sex-selective abortion.

-natal sex-determination was banned in India in 1994, under the Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act . The act aims to prevent sex-selective abortion, which, according to the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, "has its roots in India‘s long history of strong patriarchal influence in all spheres of life."

It is most prominent in Gujarat and the North Indian states, which according to census data3havean alarmingly low ratio of female children. Certain castes regularly practiced female infanticide and later female foeticide. The castes with a much lower proportion of female children to male children included lew apatidars and the rajputs in Gujarat;  I, Khutris and Moyal Brahmins in undivided Punjab, and Rajputs & Gujars in UttarPradesh. 2

This process began in the early 1990s when ultrasound techniques gained widespread use in India. There was tendency for families to continuously produce children until a male child was born. This was primarily due to the large sexist culture that exists in India against women. This is reflected by literacy rates among women as well as economic participation, which are both particularly low in states where female foeticide is prominent and an unequal population ratio exists alongside. The government initially supported the practice to control population growth. The Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act was passed in 1994, making sex-selective abortion illegal. It was then amended in 2003 holding medical professionals legally responsible. However, the PCPNDT Act has been poorly enforced by authorities.

1. The root cause of female foeticide is the dowry system in our society. A number of girls are killed inside the womb due to fear of dowry by many poor class families. They are worried about giving the dowry during the marriage of their girls, which poor people can’t afford.
2. Girls are considered as financial obligation by many parents. They conceive that money spend on a girl will be total waste as she will go to her in-law‘s home after the marriage. According to Hindu‘s mythology, birth of a boy is considered as path to
heaven. Being trapped in such orthodox ideas the girls are put to death before their birth.
3. The other root cause of female foeticide is rise in the inflation. Due to rise in inflation parents think hundred times before giving birth to a girl child. They worry about the educating and marrying their daughter.
4. The advancement in technology is the major cause of female foeticide. Nowadays parent determines the sex of a child before birth and kill if not according to their choice.
5. Corruption is another major factor in the rise of female foeticide. Some of the doctors do this heinous act to fulfill their moneydesire3.

Consequences And Social Effects of Female Foeticide
Due to female foeticide there is steep decrease in the female‘s population. Due to which it is becoming difficult to find girls for marriage. This in turn leads to girl‘s trafficking. According to news girls from Assam and West Bengal are kidnapped and sold in Haryana for marriage, where the child sex ratio is least in the country. Due to diminution in the female’s population our society is becoming male dominant, which is not a good indication. As the decrease in number of women, men consider themselves more superior and above law, which in turn results in women‘s exploitation. Female foeticide has led to an increase in human trafficking. In 2011, 15,000 Indian women were bought and sold as brides in areas where foeticide has led to lack of women.

Control Mechanism
1. There should be registration of all the nursing homes and rigorous action should be taken against the defaulters.
2. Government must deploy national wide campaign to spread cognizance among the people. They should aware the people about the importance of girls and should not consider them as stigma to their families.
3. More reservation should be given to the girls in education. Government should provide financial support to those families who are not able to educate their children. Proper measures should be taken to implement anti dowry law and culprits should be punished. Government should provide financial support for the marriage of girls belonging to poor families.
5. Emphasis should be given to women empowerment. Women education will help in eradicating this problem. As the women will become independent, they can take decision according to their volition.
6. There is a need of remove the myth of son preference from our society only then this problem can be tackled.

Creating Social Awareness
Increasing awareness of the problem has led to multiple campaigns by celebrities and journalists to combat sex-selective abortions. Aamir Khan devoted the first episode Daughters Are Precious of his show Satyamev Jayate4 to raise awareness of this widespread practice, focusing primarily on Western Rajasthan, which is known to be one of the areas where this practice is common.9 Rapid response was shown by local government in Rajasthan after the airing of this show, showing the effect of media and nationwide awareness on the issue. A vow was made by officials to set up fast- track courts to punish those who practice sex-based abortion. They cancelled the licenses of six sonography centers and issued notices to over 20 others. This has been done on the smaller scale. Cultural intervention has been addressed through theatre. Plays such as Pacha Mannu, which is about female infanticide/foeticide, has been produced by a women's theatre group in Tamil Nadu. This play was showing mostly in communities that practice female infanticide/foeticide and has led to a redefinition of a methodology of consciousness raising, opening up varied ways of understanding and subverting cultural expressions.

The Beti Bachao, or Save girls campaign, has been underway in many Indian communities since the early20thcentury. The campaign uses the media to raise awareness of the gender disparities creating, and resulting from, sex-selective abortion. Beti Bachao activities include rallies, posters, short videos and television commercials, some of which are sponsored by state and local governments and other organizations. Many celebrities in India have publicly supported the Beti Bachao campaign.

Laws In India For The Unborn
The Constitution of India, 1950
Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 read with the Medical termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 where all the restrictions imposed therein, including the time limit of 20 weeks, other than the ones to ensure good medical conditions, infringe the right to abortion and the right to health, which emanate from right to life as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. Right to abortion is a species of right to privacy, which is again proclaimed a continuance of the right to life under Art 21 of the Constitution.

The Indian Penal Code, 1860
Sections 312-316 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deal with miscarriage and death of an unborn child and depending on the severity and intention with which the crime is committed, the penalties range from seven years of imprisonment and fine to life imprisonment.

Section 312. Causing miscarriage
Whoever voluntarily causes a woman with child to miscarry, shall, if such miscarriage be not caused in good faith for the purpose of saving the life of the woman, be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both, and, if the woman be quick with child, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine. Explanation:-A woman who causes herself to miscarry, is within the meaning of this section.

Section 313. Causing miscarriage without woman's consent
Whoever commits the offence defined in the last preceding section without the consent of the woman, whether the woman is quick with child or not, shall be punished with [imprisonment for life] or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years.

Section 314. Death caused by act done with intent to cause miscarriage
Whoever, with intent to cause the miscarriage of woman with child, does any act which causes the death of such woman, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

If the act is done without the consent of the woman, shall be punished either with [imprisonment for life]or with the punishment above mentioned. Explanation: - It is not essential to this offence that the offender should know that the act is likely to cause death.

Section 315. Act done with intent to prevent child being born alive or to cause it to die after birth.
Whoever before the birth of any child does any act with the intention of thereby preventing that child from being born alive or causing it to die after its birth, and does by such prevent that child from being born alive, or causes it to die after its birth, shall, if such act be not caused in good faith for the purpose of saving the life of the mother, be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years or with fine.

Section 316. Causing death of quick unborn child by act amounting to culpable homicide
Whoever does any act under such circumstances, that if he thereby caused death he would be guilty of culpable homicide, and does by such act cause the death of a quick unborn child, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was conceived as a tool to let the pregnant women decide on the number and frequency of children. It further gave them the right to decide on having or not having the child. However, this good intentioned step was being misused to force women to abort the female child. In order to do away with the lacunae inherent in previous legislation, the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act was passed in 1994, which came into force in January 1996. The Act prohibited determination of sex of the foetus and stipulated punishment for the violation of provisions thereof. It also provided for mandatory registration of genetic counselling centres, clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.

The Pre-Conception And Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation And Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994
To combat the practice of female foeticide in the country through misuse of technology, done surreptitiously with the active connivance of the service providers and the persons seeking such service, the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act was enacted on September 20, 1994. The Act was amended in 2003 to improve regulation of technology capable of sex selection and to arrest the decline in the child sex ratio as revealed by the Census 2001 and with effect from 14.02.2003, due to the amendments, the Act is known as the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act,1994.

Its Purpose:-
The main purpose of enacting the PC&PNDT (prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 has been to:
i. Ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception.
ii. Prevent the misuse of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for sex selective abortions.
iii. Regulate such techniques Stringent punishments have been prescribed under the Act for

using pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostic techniques to illegally determine the sex of the foetus.

Authorities Empowered and pertinent:
# The appropriate Authorities at the District and State levels are empowered to search, seize and seal the machines, equipments and records of the violators.

# The sale of certain diagnostic equipment is restricted only to the bodies registered under the Act.

# Government has also taken various steps to support implementation of the legislation, including through constitution of a National Inspection &Monitoring Committee (NIMC), Central and State Supervisory Boards, capacity building of implementing agencies, including the judiciary and public prosecutors and community awareness generation through PRIs and community health workers such as Auxiliary Nursing Midwives (ANMs) and Accredited Social Health Activists(ASHAs).

# The Act has a central and state level Supervisory Board, an Appropriate Authority, and supporting Advisory Committee. The function of the Supervisory Board is to oversee, monitor, and make amendments to the provisions of the Act. Appropriate Authority provides registration, and conducts the administrative work involved in inspection, investigation, and the penalizing of defaulters.

# The Advisory committee provides expert and technical support to the Appropriate Authority.
i. Sec. 6 of the said Act, clearly says that determination of sex is prohibited.
ii. Sec. 22 prohibits advertisements relating to pre-natal determination of sex and punishment for contravention.
iii. Sec. 23 (3) of the said Act, lays down that any person who seeks the aid of a genetic counseling centre, a genetic laboratory or a genetic clinic, or of a medical geneticist, gynecologist or registered medical practitioner, for applying pre-natal diagnostic techniques on any pregnant women (unless there is evidence she was compelled to undergo such diagnostic techniques) for purposes other than those specified, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term that may extend to 3 years and with a fine which may extend to Rs.10,000 and any subsequent conviction may involve imprisonment which may extend to 5 years and a fine of up toRs.50,000.

Before conducting any prenatal diagnostic procedure, the medical practitioner must obtain a written consent from the pregnant woman in a local language that she understands. Prenatal tests may be performed in various specified circumstances, including risk of chromosomal abnormalities in the case of women over 35, and genetic diseases evident in the family history of the couple.

A Survey of The Implementation of The Act
A survey was conducted to assess the implementation of the 1994 Act in South Delhi and to make recommendations for its improvement. When examined, it had been found that that there is serious failure of management and severe lack of knowledge regarding the Act.
The presence of individuals outside the medical profession, in particular those involved with human rights, would have helped to prevent fraternity bias – an unwillingness to bring medical colleagues to account.

The survey of patient attitudes showed that only40% of male patients and 30% of female patients were aware of the prohibition of sex determination. While 90% purported to agree with the principle of the Act, they nevertheless maintained that a male child was important for the strengthening of thefamily.5

Enforcement and effectiveness:-
Reproductive choices of women are supported in India. The medical termination of pregnancy Act is legal and it allows for induced abortions where pregnancy carries grave injury to women‘s health. People made the misuse of the Act of making sex determination of foetuses. Ultra sound machines continued to be widely available and simple to use. Unsurprisingly, the enforcement, if law becomes weak. There is still utmost controversy as to whom will serve as the watch dog to control the misuse of the practice of female foeticide and its implementation is difficult and considering it can only be the doctor who carries out the abortion or mother of the foetus who can

who can be punished. There always remains a political influence from implementing law. Experience has shown that in general the role of legislation is subverting a social practice is limited.
The ministry of health and family welfare had proposed a series of amendment to the 1994 Act. The act was amended in 2002 and in 2003 Rules was framed by the central government under sec 32 of the Act. These rules may be called Pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostic techniques (Prohibition of sex selection) rules1996.

Government Action-Plan And Policy Framework
National Plan of Action exclusively for the girl child(1991-2000)13was formulated in 1992 for the "Survival, Protection and Development of the Girl Children". The Plan recognized the rights of the girl child to equal opportunity, to be free from hunger, illiteracy, ignorance and exploitation. Towards ensuring survival of the girl child, the objectives are to:
· Prevent cases of female foeticide and infanticide and ban the practice of amniocentesis for sex determination;
· End gender disparity in infant mortality rate; eliminate gender disparities in feeding practices, expand nutritional interventions to reduce severe malnourishment by half and provide supplementary nutrition to adolescent girls indeed;
· Reduce deaths due to diarrhoea by 50% among girl children under 5 years and ensure immunization against all forms of serious illnesses; and provide safe drinking water and ensure access to fodder and drinking water nearer home.

Balika Samriddhi Yojana:
The Yogna has been implemented for the purpose of:
1. To change the negative attitude of family and community
2. To improve enrolment and retention of children in schools
3. To raise the marriage age of girls.
4. To facilitate income opportunities to girl child.

Besides having specific legislation and policy proclamations to deal with this menace, the precipitating factors such as dowry, poverty, and woman’s economic dependence etc., leading to the problem of foeticide and infanticide have been addressed by enacting various legislations as:
# Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961(Amended in1986);
# Hindu Marriage Act,1955;
# Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act,1956;
# Immoral Traffic Prevention Act,1986
# Equal Remuneration Act,1976.

It is sincerely hoped that such measures would equip women to exercise their rights. The Ministry of State for Health and Family Welfare is also embarking on a massive national level awareness and sensitisation programme on a sustained basis to check female foeticide. Non-government organisations, media, entertainment industry, spiritual leaders, medical fraternity and youth will be involved in a big way as agents of social change in the campaign. Deterrence (enforcing the law), counselling (community education) peer pressure (holding last rites after abortions to unnerve the family and doctors) and incentives for informers can be used as effective tools to bring about an appreciable change in attitude.

Recent Reports Relating To Female Foeticide In India
Study shows girls increasingly aborted in India
More and more Indian families with one girl are aborting subsequent pregnancies when prenatal tests show another female is on the way, according to a new study. The decline in the number of girls is more pronounced in richer and better educated households, according to research published May 26, 2011 in the medical journal Lancet. The study said that between 4 million and 12 million girls are thought have been aborted from 1980 to20106 .

Raw data from India's census released in March1980 showed 914 girls under the age 6 for every 1,000 boys. A decade ago, many were horrified when the ratio was 927 to 1,000. The ratio was 906 girls under 6 to every 1,000 boys in 1990 and had declined further by 2005, when it was 836 to every 1,000. The study was led by Prof. Prabhat Jha of the Centre for Global Health Research, Dalla Lana School of the University of Toronto and other researchers, including the former registrar general of India, Jayant K.Banthia.

Guard Against Misuse of Gender Tests
Describing female foeticide as a- disgrace to society Mrs. Pratibha Patil India's first women President has called upon the medical fraternity to ensure that diagnostic tests are not misused for pre-natal gender determination. - We have laws and legal provisions that specially prohibit medical practitioners from disclosing the gender of the foetus. It is not only illegal, but it is socially immoral and detrimental to society. It is very important that all medical facilities, doctors and radiologists adhere to this so as to prevent female foeticide,‖ Ms. Patil said inaugurating the 64th National Conference of Indian Radiologist and Imaging Association.

A skewed population composition, due to a bias against the girl child, can have many adverse social consequences. We have a social responsibility to bring about an end to prejudices and discrimination against the girl child. We must encourage all such steps that will contribute to the welfare of the girl child - proper nutrition, education, opportunity to work and to be financially independent. A girl child is an asset to thenation.7

Educate and empower less fortunate women Mrs. Meira Kumari first women Lok Sabha Speaker said, Women have great power hidden within them. Even the Mahatma believed in this and decided to involve them in the freedom struggle…But today we live in a country where rampant female foeticide and female infanticide take place. The condition of women in our country needs attention,‖ Ms. Kumar said in her address on January 5, 2011 during Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey (SNDT) Women's University annual convocation ceremony.

She appealed to a representative group of the 21,803 women students who were awarded diplomas and degrees here, to educate and empower less fortunate women.

Religious Leaders On Female Foeticide
On April 20, 2011 a widely respected and one of the oldest Islamic seminaries in Lucknow has said that female foeticide was nothing less than a murder and was not permitted in Islam. In a "fatwa", the Lucknow-based Darul Uloom Firangimahal has said that it is "un-islamic" to abort the foetus after determining its sex. Islam does not permit abortion, said Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangimahali, chief of the institution and a senior member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, an apex organization of the Muslim community in the country.

The "fatwa" was issued on Tuesday in response to a query by one Dr Huma Khwaja, who wanted to know what the Shariat (Islamic law) stand is on termination of pregnancy after determining the sex of the foetus. "Just as a murder is a sin, to cut off a part of the body (foetus) is also a sin in the eyes of Islam," Maulana Firangima hali said in the fatwa. He said that it was the duty of the human beings to consider the girls (female foetuses) as gifts of the god. "Society will progress only if the girls survive," the well-known sunni cleric said in his fatwa. The Maulana has also called for stern punishment to those indulging in female foeticide. The fatwa assumes significance in view of the recent census report, which pointed out that 63 districts in Uttar Pradesh had disproportionate male-female ratio. The census also reported that the number of girls of 0-6 age group in the state had dropped by 10 lakh, eventhough the population of the State has went up by three crore. In a show of unity, several religious leaders assembled at New Delhi on June 24, 2006 and pledged to launch a nationwide movement for the abolition of female foeticide. Condemning the increasing  inhuman and shameful practice of female foeticide, they said: At this national convention of religious leaders, we all take oath that we would use all resources at our command to propagate to the masses to shun the atrocious act of female foeticide in our country. The National Convention of Religious Leaders on Abolition of Female Foeticide and Infanticide was organized by the Indian Medical Association, the UNICEF and the National Commission for Women in the context of the alarming decline of female population, as indicated in the latestCensus8.

Sex Ratio And Girl Child
The Ministry of Women and Child Development is implementing the scheme of―Dhanalakshmi as a pilot program to provide a set of staggered financial incentives for families to encourage them to retain the girl child. The Government has also declared 24th of January every year as a - National Child Day to bring forth the problems faced by the girl child and create national awareness. The Government has also taken several measures to improve the sex ratio at birth in the country. During the1991 Census, sex ratio in the country was 927 females per one thousand males, which increased to 933 females per 1000 males during the 2001 census. The Government has enacted the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selections) Act, 1994 under which stringent punishments have been prescribed for using pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostic techniques to illegally determine sex of the foetus.

Concluding Remarks
The National Plan of Action for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Decade of the Girl Child (1991-2000)Seeks to ensure the equality of status for the girl child by laying down specific goals for her dignified survival and development without discrimination. The codified law world over considers human life as sacred and specific legal provisions have been devised to protect the life of the born and the un-born.

Evidence indicates that the problem of female foeticide is more prevalent in orthodox families. It is, therefore, essential that these socio-cultural factors be tackled by changing the thought process through awareness generation, mass appeal and social action. In addition to this all concerned i.e. the religious and social leaders, voluntary organizations, women‘s groups, socially responsible media, the doctors; the Medical Council/Association (by enforcing medical ethics and penalties on deviant doctors) and. law enforcement personnel should work in a coordinated way.

Ironically, female foeticide takes place in a country where people worship various forms of Goddesses, and where females are considered as Maa Laxmi’s incarnation and where young girls are worshipped and people touch their feet for blessings. But even then, the intentional killing of the girl child continues. Such is the double standards of our society. Right to education, health and empowerment are the fundamental rights of every Indian woman. The horrible illegal practice of female foeticide has to be stopped by harsh laws and change in the mind-set of the people. Save the girl child for a better tomorrow!!!

1. Rao Mamta, Law Relating to Women and Child 88-96 (Eastern Book Co, 2ndedn, 2008).
2. Data collected from reports published by The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India in 1990 Available at (last visited on 10th August, 2015)
3. Kapoor, S K, Human Rights under International Law and Indian Law 100-115 (Central Law Agency, 16th edn, 2007).
4. Courtesy: Star Plus; ‗Satyameva Jayate‘ - A show hosted by actor Amir Khan.
5. Available at (last visited on 10th August, 2015)
6. Indian census reports prior 2010
7. Mishra O P, Law Relating to Women and Child 69-75 (Central Law Agency, 2nd edn, 2003).
8. The Times of India (Kolkata, June 25, 2006).

Written by: Dr. Ishita Chatterjee - Assistant Professor of Law, ICFAI Law School, ICFAI University, Tripura

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